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There’s one thing for sure. No other label in the world is currently releasing as many quality Musical Theatre albums as Broadway Records at the moment. Such is Van Dean’s label’s commitment to promoting new and emerging theatre and artists, as well as new recordings of Broadway shows that I’ve no fewer than 6 albums waiting to be reviewed at present. An astonishing release rate by anyone’s standards.
Two of these are in the excellent Live At (now Feinstein’s) 54 Below Series, which you will recall that I love. I’m actually working with one of the previous stars of this series (Danielle Hope) at the moment - it’s amazing how things turn out. The first release I’ve chose to listen to is Jay Armstrong Johnson’s solo show from this spring. This is his debut album, capturing the electric show, featuring songs from Broadway to radio pop to gospel, with fresh arrangements, a full all-star band, and duets with Todrick Hall, Lindsay Mendez and Billy Lewis Jr. Produced by Jay Armstrong Johnson and Will Van Dyke, listeners can expect everything from Sondheim to Dixie Chicks via Sister Act 2!
Known for his vocal prowess, Jay Armstrong Johnson has wowed Broadway audiences in On The Town, Hands on a Hardbody, Hair and Catch Me If You Can, and starred opposite Emma Thompson as Anthony Hope in the New York Philharmonic’s Sweeney Todd. His performance as Herman in Encores’ The Most Happy Fella was hailed by The New York Times as “a standout.” Johnson was recently seen on hit ABC-TV drama Quantico as Dr. Will Olsen.
From the outset, this is a ‘big’ sounding album. ‘Big’ is a relative term when referring to 54 Below, as anyone who’s been will know it’s only a small stage, so nothing is ever really big. But from the first track, we have backing vocals which sound sumptuous, and in the tracks following there’s plenty to keep the more instrumentally-favouring listener happy. Armstrong Johnson has a great voice - extremely listenable and crystal clear - and the programme he puts together here is sufficiently eclectic to show off his voice in many styles. I didn’t like all of the tracks - who ever does? - but it’s a very enjoyable listen.
I loved the track ‘Lost Boy’ from Ryan Scott Oliver’s Peter Pan musical Darling and also the always-moving ‘Johanna’ from Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. Whist these were the stand outs for me, there’s much to like in the other numbers too. I think doing a number from Annie was a waste when there are so many great duets around that would have suited Jay and Linsdsay Mendez better, and I really didn’t understand the reasoning for ending such a night with Toto’s 'Rosanna' - as well performed as it was.
An enjoyable listen.